Clear defensible space, then get help and insights from licensed professionals
Our California lifestyle is impacted by our Mediterranean climate: cool, wet winters that lead to hot, dry summers. But those winters aren’t as wet as we’d like, leading to drier summers and increased fire dangers throughout the state, wherever Californians call home. Keep your home more fire-resistant year-round by following steps from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), and call on licensed professionals for assistance.
KNOW YOUR ZONES
CAL FIRE says homes should have what it calls “defensible space.” This space is a buffer created between a building on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area surrounding it. Defensible space is key not only to slow or stop the spread of wildfire, but also to help protect your home from catching fire as well as to give firefighters protection in case they need to defend your home.
To create a defensible space, look at your yard or property in terms of zones:
Zone 1, extending 30 to 50 feet from buildings, structures, and decks:
- Remove all dead plants, grass, and weeds.
- Remove dead or dry leaves and pine needles from your yard, roof, and rain gutters.
- Remove branches that hang over your roof and keep dead branches 10 feet away from your chimney.
- Trim trees regularly to keep branches a minimum of 10 feet from other trees.
- Relocate wood piles to Zone 2.
- Remove or prune flammable plants and shrubs near windows.
- Remove vegetation and items that could catch fire from around and under decks.
- Create a separation between trees, shrubs, and items that could catch fire, such as patio furniture, wood piles, swing sets, etc.
Zone 2, extending 100 feet out from buildings, structures, and decks:
- Cut or mow annual grass down to a maximum height of 4 inches.
- Create clear horizontal and vertical space between shrubs and trees such as by spacing out plants and by removing tree branches to a 6-foot minimum clearance.
- Remove fallen leaves, needles, twigs, bark, cones, and small branches.
And clearing your zones isn’t just to improve your property: It’s also the law in many parts of the state. Contact your local fire department for more information about laws, codes, and requirements for defensible space in your specific area.
With zones cleared, now comes the fun part: choosing and using fire-resistant plants, shrubs, and trees in your landscape. Fire-resistant planting and landscaping isn’t necessarily the same thing as a well-maintained yard or cleared, defensible space. Rather, this practice uses strategically placed vegetation and materials to actively resist the spread of fire to your home.
CAL FIRE notes you don’t need to spend a lot of money to make your landscape fire-resistant. What’s more, this type of landscaping can actually increase your property value and conserve water. And fire-resistant landscaping doesn’t mean dull: Numerous beautiful and practical plants are available at your local nursery.
To incorporate fire-resistant plants and other elements in your home, contact a professional licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Landscape Architects Technical Committee. For assistance with tree pruning for defensible spaces and elsewhere, contact a tree service contractor licensed by the Contractors State License Board. To check a professional’s license, visit https://search.dca.ca.gov. For additional information on wildfire preparedness and related resources, visit CAL FIRE’s Ready for Wildfire website and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.